Lessons on resilience from an outdoor adventure guide.
Resilience in children is something that has garnered a lot of attention lately. How as parents can we encourage and build upon this trait to benefit our kids in the outdoors? We chat to guide and manager Harry of Raglan Rock about his experiences guiding hundreds of children through canyons, rock climbing and jumping off waterfalls.
a) When kids are faced with something outside their comfort zone, what are some of the most common reactions you see?
Being put out of your comfort zone is neither a nice feeling nor an easy one to understand or interpret no matter how old you are. However kids certainly have some real funny reactions to it. In my experience there are several reactions that stand out. The most common is absolute silence, shaking and at all cost avoiding eye contact! These children are usually the best ones to listen to the safety instructions, as they don’t want to put a single foot wrong. For this reason, I like to try and make them the group leaders because it tends to refocus their nerves!
Most of the time all the group starts like this, especially if they’ve never been out of their comfort zones before. But before long they usually develop into little chatter boxes who question everything about the activity, usually regarding how many people have been lost or died doing it…! Once you manage to convince them that no one has been lost for at least a week with you, they usually get a little more confident! (don’t worry that’s a joke, the losing people part I mean…)
My favourite reaction of all is the ‘I’m not scared of anything approach.’ Over time I’ve noticed this reaction can show when they are the most nervous of all the group. I was this child for sure, and I believe that this reaction was part of my defence system. I was trying to convince everyone, including myself, that I wasn’t out of my comfort zone at all! You’ll notice as the trip goes on that this reaction slowly disappears as the kids realise what they are doing is fun and not scary. They loosen up and begin to enjoy every second. The most important role as a guide is to create a bond that allows them to trust you and feel comfortable around you.
b. Is there a process that parents can use to acknowledge these reactions, yet still encourage them to consider the activity?
I think it’s important to relate to these reactions and approach each one differently. We must remember that for some people what we regard as exciting and fun is purely terrifying for others. A great way for parents to acknowledge these nerves is to approach each experience differently.
In my opinion letting the child just not do the activity achieves nothing. You must help them understand all the positives and joy they will get out of overcoming their fears. Of course, for some you must be very gentle and know when not to push any further but for most you can work with them on progressing all the way to the end goal of conquering those fears. Get involved yourself and share experiences from when you had to conquer your own fears. Explain how good that made you feel afterwards and how that memory will last a lifetime. I like to explain that if you don’t do it now, will you regret it in the future… most children really focus on this question. Obviously like I said, everyone is different so perhaps the pushing and prodding approach isn’t always the best option. Sometimes it just takes time.
On a personal level I would not have found my passions for climbing, surfing or caving if it wasn’t for my parents helping me understand we don’t have to always give in to our fears; fear is a choice!
c) Your adventures give kids opportunities to do things they may never have experienced before or even perceived as possible. When complete, what long-term benefits do you think pushing their boundaries achieves?
Watching children push their boundaries is one of the most satisfying elements of the job. The smiles and thanks you receive after a trip are the exact reason why you do the job! I know that the memory will last a lifetime and they have gone away a new person. In some cases, it creates a passion for an activity they never thought they would do, let alone enjoy. Confidence and respect are two key values involved with our trips. They build confidence to try new things and enjoy, and teaches the importance of respect for all those with differences to us. Pushing their boundaries is huge because it demonstrates that the only thing preventing you from doing something is yourself. If you focus and have determination you can achieve anything, whether it’s jumping into a waterfall, traveling across the world or standing on that surfboard for the first time.
Our trips emphasise the importance of respecting nature while pushing your boundaries. They teach and guide as we tell the stories, ecology and geology of Mount Karioi while abseiling, climbing and jumping into waterfalls. We hope this allows children to appreciate the world we live in and not take it for granted. In today’s world that is something we all need to share and spread. This is our whenua and we strive to teach respect and ways to protect it while simultaneously enjoying all it has to offer.
*Taken from Outdoor Kids.